Though many states and communities are slowly reopening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been a particularly tough few months for musicians who made their livelihood playing music in a live setting. Because of as much, we’ve been checking in with various artists throughout the area to see how they’ve been coping during lockdown.
This week, we caught up with local drummer/jazz musician/all-around great guy Jeff Cosgrove. He has a new album, “History Gets Ahead of the Story,” coming out next month, and among others, it will feature John Medeksi — yes, that John Medeski — on organ. Throughout our conversation, we touched on all the amazing records he’s been listening to over the last few months, his upcoming album, which is receiving some national press, and why his son’s cooking has inspired him to get in the kitchen more throughout the pandemic. To learn more about everything Jeff has going on, visit www.jeffcosgrovemusic.com.
1. What were you listening to while self-quarantining and what about it made you want to listen to it during a pandemic?
Cosgrove: One of the best parts about the quarantine for me has been the amount of music I’ve been able to listen to. New stuff, old stuff, stuff that just brings me serious joy when I hear it. Music just makes me feel good, and I really enjoy feeling good.
I love soul music and there has been a lot of Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and James Brown (specifically his ‘Soul on Top’ record) playing. There is so much commitment from those artists when they sing that it is infectious. In the song ‘Pain in my Heart,’ when Otis Redding is belting out, ‘I want you to love me, love me, love me,’ and the band drops out and it’s just him, it is painfully beautiful. I just smile when I hear the groove on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’ or ‘Superstition’ or ‘Signed Sealed Delivered.’ My friend Mark Lysher also got me into this soul singer, Charles Bradley, and I have been listening to his ‘Victim of Love’ recording a lot, too. Bradley has an incredible voice — very James Brown-ish — and I am really into the sound of the band, too.
B.B. King is probably my all time favorite artist and I’ve been listening to a lot of his records. His voice and Lucille’s voice are just magic to me. I have a beautiful picture of B.B. in my living room and when I put on those records, like ‘Live at the Regal,’ it transports me to the times I would go see him in concert and the captivating energy he created...
There are a lot of jazz records playing in my house — a whole lot and my kids are not afraid to tell me which ones are weird or that they can’t tolerate. ‘Old & New Dreams,’ Art Blakey’s ‘Free For All,’ Brad Mehldau’s ‘Blues & Ballads,’ anything with drummer Matt Wilson on it, specifically his record ‘Humidity.’ Archie Shepp’s ‘Fire Music’ and Charles Toliver’s ‘Paper Man’ are two records from the late 1960s which I recently discovered thanks to my former teacher and friend, drummer Tony Martucci. Joe Chambers is the drummer on both of those records and he sounds amazing on both of them. He’s been one of my favorite drummers for more than 20 years now.
The Band’s ‘Music from Big Pink’ and ‘The Last Waltz,’ Derek and the Domino’s ‘Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs,’ Hendrix’s ‘Live at Monterey’ or ‘Axis Bold as Love’ (one of my all-time favorite records!) or ‘Band of Gypsys.’ The Pixies’ ‘Doolittle’ is also another one that gets played a lot.
All of these records capture so much emotion and I feel so good when I listen to them, even though I’ve probably listened to all of them 1,000 times or more. They remind me of people, of different times in my life, and I also get new feelings and joy each time I listen to them, which is probably why I keep coming back to them.
2. Have you come across any livestreams/internet-based performances throughout the pandemic that have stuck out? If so, which ones and why?
Cosgrove: Honestly, I haven’t been checking out many of the live streams or Internet-based performances. It’s mainly because I want to spend less time in front of a screen, and not more. Pianist Fred Hersch has had some really nice Facebook live performances that I’ve tuned in to. They have been short and have kept my attention. I’m interested to check out the Village Vanguard’s new live stream — especially Joe Lovano/Ben Street/Andrew Cyrille which is coming up in a few weeks. Any opportunity to see Andrew Cyrille play, I am going to take it!
3. Has this been a time that has been creatively fruitful for you? I know you have a couple projects in the burner, but what’s the closest to coming out? Have you been writing a bunch over the last three months?
Cosgrove: It has been surprisingly fruitful for me creatively, mainly because I’m not traveling and have a pretty good routine. I’m a big routine person — it’s not rigid but it helps me keep things organized. I sit down at my drums and work on the sound that I produce or improvise with imposed limitations or take one of the compositions I’ve written and adapt the notes to specific drums/cymbals. I’d like to do more solo drum performances once things open back up. I used to do them a couple of times a year about 10 years ago but haven’t done any in the last few years. It helps me recognize more music in my playing and it’s just fun.
I started to study composition with composer/drummer Joe Chambers. I continued my composition studies with my friend drummer/composer Klaus Suonsaari. Learning how to write tunes has started to change my drumming for the better. I’ve noticed that I’ve started to hear things differently, which is really exciting. Joe has been focusing on the fundamentals of composition, whereas, Klaus has been giving me tools to help get a quick start on composing. Through all of the studying, I haven’t written many new tunes over the last three months but I am hearing my ideas more clearly. It is easier to feel inspired and get the melodies to come out.
The next thing to come out is my recording, ‘History Gets Ahead of the Story,’ featuring John Medeksi/organ and Jeff Lederer/saxophones and flute. CDs will be available on Bandcamp and Amazon, as well as all of the music streaming/download services on July 17. It features the music of bassist/composer and my former bandmate William Parker plus two compositions from Lederer and one from me. The record is starting to get some press attention and that is always exciting. There are three live performance recordings that I am hoping to release as digital-only next year — two featuring Jeff Lederer/Mark Lysher and one with Noah Preminger/Kim Cass. They all need to be mixed/mastered but tracks have been chosen and I’m really happy with the music.
The other thing I have done over the quarantine is put together a page on my website of recordings of past live performances that can be streamed. These feature me with pianist Matthew Shipp, saxophonists Rob Brown, Scott Robinson, Noah Preminger, and Brad Linde, bassists William Parker, Ken Filiano, and Mark Lysher, plus two performances with guitarist Steve Cardenas. There are a few more I am working on to get up on the site. They can be found at: https://www.jeffcosgrovemusic.com/live/.
4. What’s the most positive takeaway you’ve been able to experience from all the self-quarantining and the sort of art world being on pause for the time being?
Cosgrove: It has been nice to slow down and make a very conscious effort to not spend so much time in front of a computer or staring at my phone. Spending more time with my kids and laughing and finding inspiration in new ways. I’m learning how to cook and my older son has been a real inspiration for that. He’s only 13 and is fantastic and fearless in the kitchen. Both of my boys have been giving me new ways to look at things and they crack me up.
The quote from the end of ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ feels pretty relevant to this time — ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’
5. If there’s one song that you think could help everybody get through these uncertain times, what would it be and why?
Cosgrove: My pick would be ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’ by Stevie Wonder. That song brings a smile to my face and it’s hard to feel bad when I hear it! Try it and see!
BONUS QUESTION: What artists, local or not, do you think have done a great job staying engaged musically online and what about what they’re doing and have done sets them apart?
Cosgrove: My friend, guitarist Candice Mowbray has done a great job staying engaged musically online. She has been working on a project where she invites other musicians to collaborate with her on a section of ‘Je Te Veux’ that she arranged. The performances are with professional musicians, amateur musicians, and friends of hers. It is such a cool project and really inspiring!